Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Chesya Burke

“I Make People Do Bad Things” has literary, noir, fantasy, and horror elements, and a historical feel, though I’m not entirely sure whether it’s set in the past. Do you enjoy blending genres?

“I Make People Do Bad Things” is a historical story set in the late 1920s, early 30s. It’s based on the real historical figures of Madam Stephanie St. Clair and Bumpy Johnson. I enjoy blending genres, especially in historical or alternate history pieces, because it allows for re-imagining these eras through limitless realms.

Shiv is a compelling and tragic character who seems essentially a child soldier in an urban American environment. Did you see her this way too?

I never really saw Shiv as a child soldier, although that is a fairly accurate comparison. Without giving too much away, Shiv’s power to control people is not neutral. She has unique abilities and is willing to use them to protect herself and her mother from the beginning of the story. There’s no doubt, however, that Shiv is manipulated and controlled in a similar way to how a child soldier would be.

Queenie and Bumpy are similarly complex: organized criminals willing to exploit and kill, yet almost living as a sort of family and experiencing guilt and grief over their treatment of Shiv. Was it challenging to write from the perspective of a complicated but ultimately unsympathetic character?

It was a delight writing about Queenie and Bumpy. Not only were they based on real people, but they were conflicted and neither was one-dimensional. They struggled with their love for the girl, their desire to aid the community, and making money. They’re not altogether different from the rest of us.

You’re currently attending college, majoring in Africana Studies and English Literature, minoring in Education. Do you plan to teach creative writing at some point? Have you encountered any resistance to speculative fiction (versus literary fiction) in academic circles?

I hope to teach literature, and I have only taken one creative writing course. In graduate school, I’m taking a class focused on Octavia Butler’s work and my thesis will be on Storm from X-Men. That said, I’ve had at least one person advise me against “limiting” myself with genre works for my thesis. Many others, though, have been supportive.

Any new projects you’d like to tell us about?

My current work in progress is a crime novel about a Black woman detective in 1920s Harlem Renaissance. It’s titled The Strange Crimes of Little Africa and follows Jaz Idawell, an anthropology student, who realizes that she may have to sacrifice her cousin’s freedom when she discovers evidence that her father, the first black traffic cop on the force, may be guilty of murder. Her best friend is the indelible Zora Neal Hurston, and the two women set out to find the truth about their wonderful world of Little Africa (Harlem), New York.

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Erika Holt

Erika Holt

Nightmare assistant editor Erika Holt lives in Calgary, Alberta, where she writes and edits speculative fiction. Her stories appear in several anthologies including Not Our Kind, What Fates Impose, and Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead. She is also co-editor of two anthologies from EDGE and Absolute XPress: Rigor Amortis, about sexy, amorous zombies, and Broken Time Blues, featuring such oddities as 1920s burlesque dancers and bootlegging chickens. Find her at erikaholt.com or on Twitter as @erikaholt.